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What is the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

DUI and DWI are acronyms for driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated, respectively. This Buzzle article will highlight the difference between DUI and DWI.
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dui and dwi indicate drunken driving
Did You Know?
In all states across the U.S., a first-offense DUI or DWI is classified as a misdemeanor, and punishable by up to six months in jail, which may be increased under certain circumstances. In addition, courts can and do impose high fines ranging from USD 500 to USD 2,000.
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI) are driving violations, both basically refer to drinking and driving. They can also be called operating under the influence or impaired driving. These are legal offenses of driving a vehicle while having consumed alcohol or other drugs. You may have noticed 'drunk driving' check posts/signs on streets in some areas. Traffic cops periodically check vehicles for people who drive when they are drunk. In fact, such checks are frequently carried out at places that are prone to accidents. Read this Buzzle article further to know some more points of difference in this DUI vs. DWI comparison.

Definitions of Related Terms

Blood Alcohol Level / Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
  • It refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream and is usually measured in percentages.
  • It is measured either by testing an individual's breath, blood, or urine. This test is used to determine whether the driver is 'legally drunk' or not.
  • If the person is found to have a BAC percentage above the legally acceptable value, he/she is considered to be 'legally drunk'.
  • This law has been accepted by all the 50 states. As of 2013, the legally acceptable BAC value is 0.08%. This means that if the driver's BAC is 0.08% or higher, he/she is punishable under the law.
Administrative License Suspension
It is a law that allows the cops to confiscate and suspend a driver's license immediately when a driver is charged with the 'driving while intoxicated' offense. It may also be applicable before adjudicating the charge, i.e., if the offender's BAC is above the set limit or if he refuses to take the test.

Penalties
  • They vary from paying a fine, serving jail time, license suspension, to hours of community service and education programs.
  • In different states, the time period for suspension of administrative license ranges from 3 months to a year. This depends on several factors; if you are a minor and this is your first offense, the suspension period could be shorter. If you've committed the offense before, or if you refuse to take the test, your license will be suspended nevertheless, on the grounds of non-compliance regarding the law.
  • Community service is mostly handed down to minors (not necessarily, of course) as a part of the sentence. This includes jobs, like janitorial services, working at old-age homes, etc. The number of hours depends on the courts and other related factors.
  • Serving jail time and paying fines are mostly compulsory. For offenses that have been classified as felony, the offender could be sentenced to several years of jail time.
  • A point to note here is that the penalties vary from state to state. New York could have a different way to deal with this problem than Texas or Wyoming. It also depends on the officer in charge at that moment. The fines, jail times, and laws are all handled differently in all states.

Testing Methods and Devices

The testing methods mostly include breath analysis, blood, and urine tests. There are also field sobriety tests, which include reciting alphabets, standing on one leg, walk-and-turn, etc. These are carried out to determine the impaired state of the offender due to alcohol. Some of the testing devices used are as follows:

Breathalyzer
It is a breath analysis device that provides an estimate of blood alcohol based upon the chemical analysis of a breath sample.

Intoximeter
It involves the chemical analysis of a breath sample to measure the BAC by means of an electrical reaction.

BAC Datamaster
A breath analysis device that uses infrared spectroscopy to provide an estimate of alcohol in the blood. This device is not portable and is generally kept at the police station.

Portable Breath Test (PBT)
It is a portable device used by the cops, generally at a check post, to determine whether the person is drunk or not. It may not be completely reliable.

Notable Points of Difference


DUI DWI
Legalities
It is applied when that the person is under the influence of alcoholic drinks or drugs like weed (he may have consumed it in less amount). What this essentially means is that the offense does not involve only alcohol. You will be in trouble even if you consume any physician-prescribed medication that might have side-effects which might cause you to drive erratically. It clearly indicates that the person is very high on alcohol. He is completely intoxicated, and according to the law, he should not be driving at all.
Interpretation of Laws
The terms are interpreted differently in different states. In Texas, it refers to a minor who is caught drinking and driving, while in New York, it is used when your BAC is below the legal limit of 0.08%. In Texas, it refers to an adult caught drinking and driving, while in New York, it is applied when the BAC is above the legal limit. Some states (like New Jersey) have a zero-tolerance policy and do not recognize any differences between the two.
Penalties
They vary state-wise as well. In Arizona, the license is suspended for 1 year on the first offense, while in Maryland, the suspension is for 4 months. You will have to pay fines as well, which vary according to the severity of the offense and the court orders. In New York, a person charged with this offense may have to pay a fine ranging from USD 500 to USD 10,000, depending on the 1st-, 2nd-, or 3rd-time offense, and other factors. Also, he will have to serve a jail term. While in Texas, a first-time offender (mostly a minor) pays a fine of USD 500, and gets his license suspended for three months or more, depending on the hours of community service handed to you by the judge.

Remember that laws are always subject to change. In technical terms, the only difference between DUI and DWI is the inclusion of having drugs and narcotics, under the former. But in legal terms, these offenses are handled differently throughout the U.S. (as already mentioned), and depends on the severity of the crime, the circumstances, your attorney's defense, etc. The key point to keep in mind is―please do not drink and drive. It not only harms you, but also an innocent life that is not at fault.
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Published: August 8, 2014
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